Artificial intelligence and its Gear in Kyoto

It is our last night in Kyoto – yesterday was a Tuesday when most museums and theatres are closed in Japan but we also had typhoon Jebi storming above us, bringing the public and tourists alike to a halt. Luckily our Ryokan guesthouse did not lose electricity like others. We ate in the main train station, queued with everyone else in the tax-free shops with no alternative of entertainment and then went back for a long afternoon nap. Otherwise Kyoto seems to us like the capital of shrines, temples and gardens, palm reading and exciting street food (sweet and savoury varieties of the German Baumkuchen can be found). The weather on the day after the typhoon has been fantastic and our feet are tired again. Where ever we go tonight, we want to make sure seats are available. And because I can never resist a good steampunk story we pick the show Gear over traditional kabuki and noh theatre, as it promises a show without any spoken words and already refers to lot of exciting stuff in their promotional artwork. It is a show about robotics but apparently a different take than the hyperactive cyberpunk Robot Restaurant in Tokyo.

You will be equipped with goggles when visiting Gear in Kyoto

We find the beautiful art deco building at the end of the bohemian museums quarter – its yellow 1928 façade reminds me of Michael Ende’s novels. Climbing some flights of stairs, we are in an improvised foyer with a drink vending machine instead of a bar and a gift shop with its own coin operated show souvenir vending machine – this is Japan. Before we enter the theatre we receive goggles, a survey pad and watch a safety video. Equipped we look like the assistants of scientists and as the audience room is not massive and the atmosphere warm it feels almost intimate.

We are indeed in a factory with four humanoid robots, all operating their daily tasks on machinery and all with their own strengths. But their routine is being interrupted when a toy box from some forgotten time is found, inside a doll in a white dress with curly hair.

When she comes alive everyone wants to impress her – there is competitive breakdancing, juggling, acrobatics and magic tricks and if you are cynical you could say you have seen all of them elsewhere, but it does not matter as I still do not know how it works. The doll’s magical powers bring even more impressive talents out and so one artificial intelligence enhances another. The visual trickery is clever, lights and colours taking the centre stage, and always beautiful to look at.

At Gear the ensemble is organised by colours

But the doll gets cocky and now she demands everyone’s attention all the time, she flirts, always wants more and finally the working robots decide to put her back in the box; after all she is distracting them from their work. It becomes a battle in which the whole factory suffers badly but there is a happy end and a new era begins when voices are being found.

This is a very Japanese take on Pinocchio and I wonder if we will welcome Gear at some point at the London Mime Festival, especially after this year’s contribution Lebensraum. I found myself smirking at a couple of scenes and thought of my own teenage years.  I have both entered and left with a very warm feeling and wonder still what other stories this wonderous building has to tell.

This beautiful art deco building from 1928 in Kyoto hosts Gear

**** out of 5 stars

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